Milestones and trail markers: 5 ways to beat the birthday blues

I began my blogging experience a few years ago around my daughter’s birthday. The post I wrote at that time was reflective, emotional and perhaps more than a little self indulgent. I was thinking about all of the things that had transpired in her young life, about the adventures we had shared and about all of the adventures I was anticipating to come.

This year, I turned 50. As I contemplated my milestone and the opportunity to commemorate it with it’s own blog post, I found myself again becoming reflective and emotional, but I was trying to avoid the self indulgence. Instead, it was a little self persecutorial.

When I was in my early 20’s, I really thought that my life would be more meteoric than mundane. I had heard people tell me that I had potential and try to encourage me to use my time and talents to further their objectives. As a result, I had a lot of mementos and accomplishments in things that mattered to others, but never really seemed to rise to the level that I had expected of myself. And now, at 50, I found myself wondering whether or not all of that was time wasted.

Needless to say, the birthday was a mixed bag.

I celebrated with friends and family, and appreciated the time I shared. It was delightful. But nagging in the back of my mind was the thought that I had missed out on things that were really important. I thought if people near my age, some younger, and couldn’t help but compare what I had done (or not done) with what those people had accomplished.

And as often happens, I came up wanting.

At least initially.

It was then that I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was measuring myself against. We’ve all done this. We compare ourselves to others, to their social media posts, to their good fortune, to their accomplishments, to all of the visible things that they choose to put on display. We do this without ever really thinking about the negative aspects of their lives that are surely there. They are there because everyone struggles with negatives. It’s just part of human life.

So I started to evaluate my birthday not so much in terms of milestones on the way to the goals that I hadn’t accomplished but according to the trailmarkers that helped me clarify the path that I was on. Here are the types of trailmarkers that I am choosing to focus on:

What is the quality of my significant relationships like? Let’s be clear, I’m not the perfect husband or father. Let’s be honest, no one can claim the title of perfect. But as a milestone, my perfection of perfect far outstripped the reality of my life in this facet. Until I asked myself, “Do my grown kids still come by the house? Do they make time to spend with me? Do my kids who are still at home actively try to avoid spending time with me? Are they willing to just go for a drive when I ask, to run errands? Does my wife welcome my company when she is just driving to the store?” The answer to all of these questions were postive! And compared to what things could be like, this was all moving in a good direction. Positive trailmarker 1, check!

What has been my experience with my career? I have to be honest, I expected to be making a lot more money by now. I expected to be in a more glamorous position, to be enjoying a level of influence within my company and within my industry that far exceeds what my reality is. But re-examining the question, I was again impressed by the positive direction that things were taking. I have remained employed in the same organization when many people were let go. I have expanded my position and my influence within the organization, helping it to continue to make strides toward achieving goals and initiatives. And in other ways, I am helping people inside and outside of my company to be more successful in their careers.

What has been my experience with my physical facet? I have never won a Super Bowl, a world championship in anything, or even anything more prestigious physically than a local bike race, and even that I have only done once. But again, a shift of focus shows a very different perspective. I have completed multiple 100 mile rides, a marathon, two half marathons, multiple 5 and 10 K races and more than a few Obstacle Course Races, like Spartan. I am controlling my diabetes wisely, and have good endurance and flexibility. I can still play golf with one of my sons, and overall, I’m in great health, something that many of my peers struggle with.

How are my hobbies? I write, I sing and perform. These are my hobbies. I also have a YouTube channel and participate as a regular contributor for a podcast. None of these are changing the world, but in all of them, I acquit myself well. I sing with a fairly well known choir, people are happy to see me at auditions. I have a few subscribers for both this blog and my channel and our podcast just won an award this past year. Overall, these may not be things that movies are made of, but I’m busy doing things I enjoy for people who enjoy what I do. I think that trailmarker is pretty clearly pointing toward success and happiness.

How’s my spiritual life? I’m certainly not perfect, I’m not even sure I qualify as holy. But I am certainly striving for a measure of calm and connectedness to the universe and others that seems to bring me joy. I treat people with kindness, finding things about them that I can genuinely appreciate, and I express that appreciation. I have a spiritual discipline that brings me joy and peace, and I follow it well more days than not. That is a pretty clear trailmarker toward peace and happiness.

So, after taking careful stock of what I have done, it seems that my trailmarkers are indicating that I’m heading in a pretty good direction.

I wish the same for you! Go forth and conquer!